Girls treated like 'poison snakes' in B.C. polygamous community, ex-member says

The Globe and Mail, Canada/August 23, 2010

Vancouver - Girls in the polygamous community of Bountiful "were to be treated like poison snakes" and taught that their role was to "have lots of children and obey the men," says an affidavit filed in the B.C. Supreme Court in connection to a landmark polygamy case.

"The boys were taught not to interact with the girls and that the girls were to be treated like ‘poison snakes,' " says the affidavit, filed earlier this month by Truman Oler, 28, who grew up in Bountiful and left the community when he was about 21.

"We were not allowed to talk or play with [girls]," the document says. "That seems stupid to me when I think about it now because in my situation we were all related to each other " those girls were our nieces or cousins or sisters.

"I never remember being taught that being related to someone means that morally you should not think of that person as someone you would marry or have kids with."

The affidavit is among a large amount of material, including videotaped interviews with people who grew up in polygamous communities in Canada and the U.S., filed in connection with a constitutional reference case expected to pit the right to religious freedom against arguments that polygamy harms women, children and society.

The affidavit contains allegations that have not been proven in court.

Lawyers involved in the case are scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday to discuss scheduling.

The B.C. government decided last October to ask the court to rule on whether the prohibition against polygamy in the Criminal Code is constitutional. In January, 2009, a government-appointed special prosecutor had recommended charges against Bountiful leaders Winston Blackmore and James Oler.

But the B.C. Supreme Court last September quashed those charges " one count of polygamy for each man " on procedural grounds, saying the province had gone "special prosecutor shopping" to find one that would press charges.

Allegations of polygamy in the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community of Bountiful date back to 1990. Two special prosecutors had advised against charges, reflecting concerns that such charges might not stand up to a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In his affidavit, Truman Oler says he is the 13th of 15 children and went to school in Bountiful from kindergarten through Grade 9. The boys were encouraged to leave school early to go to work. Mr. Oler went to work for J.R. Blackmore & Sons, a company run by Winston Blackmore, the affidavit states. Later, he went to work for a logging company in Sundre, Alta., where he regularly paid dues to the church.

"You had to pay 10 per cent of all your earnings just to keep your standing, and there was always pressure to pay more," the affidavit says.

In the document, Mr. Oler says he began to question FLDS practices after a 2002 split between Mr. Blackmore and James Oler, Truman's brother and Mr. Blackmore's rival.

"I now think that the FLDS is like a cult and that it is damaging for children to grow up in that environment," Truman Oler says in his affidavit. "The FLDS does not permit anyone free choice. You are told what to do."

No one in the church "really spoke about the fact that polygamy was illegal, but we were told that we would be prosecuted for living like we did," the affidavit states. "The church always justified polygamy by saying that it was no different from a man wanting to sleep with someone other than his wife."

Government lawyers are expected to argue that the ban on polygamy is justified. A lawyer has been appointed to argue against the ban.

Mr. Blackmore has said the Charter gives him the right to live according to his religion.

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